J Herb Tea Party: A taste of Korean café culture in Chennai

J Herb Tea Party gives Chennai a taste of Korean café culture, with friendly service and creamy cheesecake. And of course, you can slip on a sheet mask here as you sip on rooibos

The city is no stranger to Korean food, thanks to restaurants like New Seoul Hotels and the now-defunct Inseoul. We’ve even had Ambrosia bakery on Cenotaph Road introduce us to the light and airy chiffon cakes way back in 2013. Now, at the six-month-old J Herb Tea Party, you can learn all about café culture from the South East Asian country.

Run by JJ Han, fondly known as Honey, this charming little space is situated on the narrow, yet busy road that connects Velachery to Little Mount. “It was our daughter Rose’s idea,” she says, adding that they simultaneously opened a branch in Poonamallee, near Saveetha Dental College.

The family had relocated to Chennai in 1997, when her husband John, worked with Hyundai here. When they moved back after a few years, they found themselves missing India more than expected. After setting up an export/import business for Korean supplements, health food ingredients and beauty products, they were back, this time, to stay. The café is an offshoot of this venture.

Korea’s obsession with coffee has reached new heights, with over 1,000 Starbucks outlets nationwide, and a range of themed cafés, from Hello Kitty to meerkats. But it all started with tea, and that’s what Honey wants to highlight. It’s my second visit in as many days, and we chat over endless cups of rooibos tea. The extensive menu includes brews sourced from around the globe: England, Sri Lanka, France, Russia… Behind the counter, you’ll find rows of gorgeous tea pots with matching cups and saucers.

In a moment of temptation, I ask if they’re for sale (spoiler alert, they’re not). Honey explains, “Each of these has been sourced from the countries that the teas are from. When a customer orders those, it is served in a corresponding set.” The rest of their crockery, cutlery and table ware, right down to the coasters, has been sourced from Korea, she adds.

Apart from the usual range of white and green teas, some of the customer favourites are the saffron and flavoured ice teas. As part of their signature items, there is a selection of aromatic blends of baby green tea — step in for a pot of the lavender brew when you’re feeling stressed out. Any of the ‘flavours’, for lack of a better term, can be served as iced tea, and they will guide you on what tastes best hot or cold.

J Herb Tea Party: A taste of Korean café culture in Chennai

The hibiscus bubble tea is unlike what you generally find in the market — they skip the tapioca pearls and add just boba, and it’s considerably less sucrose-heavy as it doesn’t have any added syrup. If you have that one friend who just can’t do without their coffee, there’s the Dutch drip and pour-over brews available.

Perhaps the only downside is that the food menu at the Velachery branch is limited to cheesecakes. I know it doesn’t sound like a real problem, but if you’re looking to work from the space (which is WiFi-enabled), you’re probably going to need more than a few pots of tea and dessert to sustain you. That being said, the cheesecakes are delightfully melt-in-the-mouth, and come in four flavours: classic, chocolate, strawberry and blueberry. “A home-baker friend makes these specially for us; she uses coconut sugar and Himalayan salt from our store so they are a cleaner version. They’re also eggless,” says Honey. The Poonamallee branch serves some Korean fare in the form of finger foods, salads and sandwiches, we’re told.

Although there are framed pictures of BTS, the K-Pop sensation band, on the wall, the music is generally acoustic, and is relegated to the background. With comfortable furniture, a kids play area, and hosts who will make you feel right at home, it’s the kind of place you’ll keep coming back to.

Retail therapy:

The cafe features a shop as well, selling products that they export from India to Korea and vice versa. Pick up supplements like Boswellia (for joint pain) and garcinia for gut health, as well as healthier alternatives like coconut sugar, Himalayan pink salt, moringa seeds and noni powder. There’s also a range of imported house-cleaning products from Strategi. Sheet mask aficionados can stock up from a selection that starts at ₹120. Soaps, shampoos and lotions from Vaadi — Honey explains that it’s a brand popular in North India — are available as well.

J Herb Tea Party
  • @131, Velachery Main Road, Little Mount, Saidapet
  • Hits: Hibiscus boba tea
  • Misses: Lack of food options
  • Meal for two: ₹600 (approx)
  • Timing: 9.30 am to 7 pm
  • Call: 9176896994

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 2:45:23 PM |

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